Music Matters: Rediscovering the forgotten sounds of Somalia

Music Matters: Rediscovering the forgotten sounds of Somalia
Iftin is the The Ministry of Education’s band. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 17 September 2020

Music Matters: Rediscovering the forgotten sounds of Somalia

Music Matters: Rediscovering the forgotten sounds of Somalia
  • Some of the Arab world’s most intriguing music is uncovered in Analog Africa’s latest compilation ‘Mogadisco’

MUSCAT: In the aftermath of the Ogaden War, Somalia’s Bakaka Band found themselves “somewhat meaningless,” in the words of singer Shimaali Ahmed Shimaali. Founded to sing patriotic songs by the government’s Ministry of Interior in 1978 — the height of the Somali-Ethiopian border conflict — peacetime presented a crisis of identity.

After reinventing themselves as a private party band, playing to tourists in Mogadishu’s hotels, the musicians were arrested — all because they had inadvertently chosen a new name, Gor-Gor Band, (meaning “Eagle”) that also happened to be the title of a militant group opposed to Siad Barre’s ruling regime.

As Shimaali tells it, the president had to personally intervene to get the group off the hook, ordering them instead to take the name Dur-Dur Band, and they went on to become one of the best-known groups from a golden era of Somali music that has gone largely unheard beyond the country’s borders.

Tracks by both Bakaka Band and Dur-Dur Band make up a healthy share of “Mogadisco: Dancing Mogadishu (Somalia 1972-1991),” a compilation released by the eclectic Analog Africa imprint at the end of 2019. It is more than a record, it’s a musical archaeology project accompanied by vintage photos and fresh interviews, in which Shimaali’s story is told.




Dur-Dur Band became one of the best-known groups from a golden era of Somali music that has gone largely unheard beyond the country’s borders. (Supplied)

Analog Africa’s Tunisian founder Samy Ben Redjeb tells Arab News that his visit to Somalia was the first by an international label, his efforts uncovering miraculous musical moments otherwise forgotten — such as “Hab Isii” (literally “Hug Me”) an infectiously seductive dance-floor filler driven by a stonking reggae rhythm and tropical flavor, recorded by singer Omar Shooli in 1986 — that offer a window into the culture of a country often overshadowed by its tumultuous socio-political situation.

“The thing with Somalia is that all the news you get from the country is only negative,” says the 49-year-old Redjeb.  “So to imagine that this was one of the most beautiful towns in Africa and extremely rich culturally – that was basically the message I wanted to navigate through the compilation, to paint a more positive picture of that country.”

After finally obtaining a visa, invite and host for his stay, Redjeb spent five weeks in the Somali capital in late 2016, waiting each morning to be picked up by the armed guards who would take him to the dusty archives of the state’s Radio Mogadishu, where he dug through stacked boxes of hundreds of often sparsely labeled cassettes.

“I knew I was not going to come back empty-handed, that’s for sure, but I didn’t know what exactly I would find,” he says. “That’s basically my job — to go into uncharted territory and try to find music that is interesting enough to be released for an international market.”




Samy Ben Redjeb is the Tunisian founder os Analog Africa. (Supplied)

Amid the radio jingles, political speeches, background music, devotionals and theater soundtracks, he uncovered documents of the capital’s thriving ’70s and ’80s band scene, original multilingual material heavily influenced by the era’s Western disco and funk flavors, but rooted in regional Balwo musical poetry traditions, and often smattered with a Latin and Caribbean lilt. More than mere ethnography, the music he assembled for release is as fun and familiar as it is fascinating and obscure — just listen to Marvin Gaye-loving singer Mukhtar Ramadan IIdi’s primitively recorded foot-tapping “Check Up Your Head” and “Baayo.”

Collectively, the release’s 12 tracks tell the story of a period both uniquely fertile but strictly controlled. Now the subject of their own standalone Analog Africa retrospective gathered from the same visit (“Dur-Dur of Somalia – Vol. 1, Vol. 2”), Dur-Dur Band’s story is not uncommon; after assuming the presidency following the 1969 coup, President Barre invested heavily in culture, and almost every government ministry boasted its own well-funded band. “While other African countries were going down musically and culturally in the Eighties, Somalia was going up,” says Redjeb. “Ghana in the Eighties was completely dead, while Somalia was exploding just because of the political environment.”

But the Bakaka Band’s brand of patriotic music is far more than the crude jingoism associated with the genre, the languid “Godonimada” (Choose Freedom) pits lazy call-and-response tribal chants over reggae groves, while the trippy “Geesiyada Halgamayow” (Brave Fighters) bounces between slow, spooky, and furious funk passages.




The state-funded bands were frequently called on to provide live accompaniment to musical plays staged at the National Theater of Somalia. (Supplied)

When they weren’t on government duties or representing Somalia at international festivals, these incredibly versatile state-funded bands were frequently called on to provide live accompaniment to musical plays staged at the National Theater of Somalia, with The Ministry of Education’s Iftin Band contributing the eerie, sci-fi-flavored synth instrumentals “Sirmaqabe” (No Secrets) and “Ii Ooy Aniga” (Cry For Me).

With new productions staged on a monthly basis, there was a constant demand for new, audience-pleasing scores, big on singalongs, which were hastily recorded and distributed to the public prior to the production’s opening. That’s the source of the compilation’s “Waakaa Helaa” (I Like You), an imploring falsetto sung by young female singer Fadumo Qassim, backed by the legendary Shareero Band.

After these formal theater gigs, the musicians would typically pile into a minivan with their equipment to moonlight at the city’s higher-end hotels, playing Michael Jackson or Tracey Chapman hits to a mix of Italian tourists and moneyed locals. When the revellers went home in the early hours, the bands would often stick around until dawn, writing and recording DIY cassettes of their own original music away from the demands of dancers and the pressures of politics.

“You couldn’t be totally independent, you always had a toe in politics, because you were a voice and the government would use that voice whenever they wanted,” warns Redjeb. “You might be independent, but when they called you, you had to be there.”


Healthy choice: Saudis embrace ‘clean beauty’ after pandemic

Healthy choice: Saudis embrace ‘clean beauty’ after pandemic
Both Essence and Sun Pharmacy are registered at Maroof, a platform launched by the Ministry of Commerce and Investment for online stores. (Supplied)
Updated 38 min 41 sec ago

Healthy choice: Saudis embrace ‘clean beauty’ after pandemic

Healthy choice: Saudis embrace ‘clean beauty’ after pandemic
  • Homegrown businesses meet growing demand for natural self-care products

JEDDAH: The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a rise in health awareness worldwide as consumers question their pre-virus lifestyle, and adopt more hygienic, healthy and environmentally friendly behaviors.

Saudis are no exception. Many are embracing healthier lifestyles and practices, seeking natural products to improve their health and prevent diseases, resulting in a growing demand for local eco-friendly, natural and organic beauty products.
According to a recent Mordor Intelligence forecast on the Saudi beauty market from 2021 to 2026, there is a growing demand for natural, organic, herbal and halal products, along with innovative and eco-friendly packaging and designs.
Homegrown young businesses offering naturally made self-care and cosmetic products are noticing increased interest by consumers in their products.
“There had been a growing demand for our products with the pandemic because people are becoming more aware of their wellbeing and they want a healthier lifestyle,” Amani Daghriri, owner of Sun Pharmacy, told Arab News.
Sun Pharmacy (@sun_pharmacy) is the first of its kind in the Kingdom to specialize in fully organic daily skin and personal care products made in Saudi Arabia.
“Every crisis has its bright side, and the pandemic has definitely helped us grow, especially with the shift toward e-commerce, which allowed more people to learn about our store and to try our products,” she added.
Daghriri said that more people are now prioritizing the safety of ingredients and formulas on their skin, which is a message she is keen to communicate.

HIGHLIGHT

According to a recent Mordor Intelligence forecast on the Saudi beauty market from 2021 to 2026, there is a growing demand for natural, organic, herbal and halal products, along with innovative and eco-friendly packaging and designs.

“The skin is the biggest organ in the body, and the first defender of our immunity. Applying chemicals weakens it, but feeding your skin with natural products that are similar to the structure of our cells and bodies helps preserve its glow and health, and therefore the health of the entire body,” she said.
At Sun Pharmacy, Daghriri targets consumers looking for daily use self-care products such as toothpaste, deodorant and shampoo. However, women between 20 and 60 make up most of her clients.
The fast growth of the natural products market reflects the rise in public awareness, said Daghriri. “This market is growing very quickly. When I started five years ago, there were hardly 10 people working in the field, but now it is very difficult to count.”
Although handmade natural products are seen as cost-effective, easy to make and consumer attractive, Daghriri insists that it is a knowledge-based craft that can be expensive, but is also good value.
She believes that business owners in the natural products industry must obtain the necessary knowledge not only to support their business and expand their products line, but also to better serve consumers, gain their trust and eliminate mistakes.
As the home became the new spa during the pandemic, DIY and natural self-care recipes saw significant growth worldwide. “I see many DIY recipes everywhere,” said Daghriri, “but these recipes are prone to fail, rot quickly or interact in an unpleasant way.”
She said that investment in this field requires knowledge about how to produce products properly to gain confidence in your abilities and earn the consumers’ trust.
Sun Pharmacy is permitted by the Saudi Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) to establish its own lab and manufacture its own products.
“The FDA procedures are much easier today than in the past for those who work in our field,” said Daghriri. “In the past, the permit was conditional to factories, but they later made an exception for those who work from home or their own private places to produce their products until they become a factory.”
She also highlighted that products registration is made accessible online, so any registered business can submit its products for approval and release in the market.
Sun Pharmacy closely follows Daghriri’s own lifestyle, beliefs and principles, a fact that she believes is essential for these types of businesses.
“This is not a profit-driven business; passion and faith are necessary to grow,” she said. “I believe the more effort I give, the better the results.”
Daghriri has confidence in the effectiveness of her products, and hopes to expand in the wider MENA region as a leading Saudi brand in the “clean beauty” industry.
Essence (@essence__sa) is another young Saudi startup that offers natural handmade self-care products to Saudi consumers.
The Instagram-based store is run by a mother, Rhonda Howard, and her daughter Lujain Malibari.
“We have always been passionate about using natural skincare, and we want to share our favorites with our customers and people who have the same passion as we do,” Malibari told Arab News.
Essense offers homemade natural essential oil skincare to women customers, but is planning to expand with a product line for men.
Malibari said: “More people are becoming interested in natural remedies for their skin and want to know what’s in their products. We see this trend in Saudi Arabia as well.”
The pandemic has led to an increase in sales for young brands such as Essence.
However, Malibari said: “Our loyal customers have stayed loyal, but it has made it difficult to attract new customers.”
With the safety of products a major concern for potential users of handmade products, Daghriri advises people to refrain from buying products that fail to list ingredients since not all natural components will suit everyone.
Packaging and the right storage for natural products is also important for safety.
“We take pride in using the best of ingredients and in our hygiene practices in the preparation of the products. We make sure that our products are packaged in safe containers that support essential oils, too,” said Malibari.
Regardless of how big or small the business is, those working in the natural beauty industry bear the responsibility of educating customers about ways to adopt a healthy lifestyle and achieve healthy beauty. Both Sun Pharmacy and Essence make knowledge not only a message but also an essential marketing factor.
“We educate ourselves to provide the best quality for our customers,” said Daghriri.
Both Essence and Sun Pharmacy are proud local Saudi brands based in Jeddah that were launched from home. The two businesses are registered at Maroof, a platform launched by the Ministry of Commerce and Investment for online stores.
“What was really exciting when I first started was the ‘Made in Saudi’ label — it brings me joy and pride every time I stick that label on my boxes,” said Daghriri.


Introducing Renaissance Renaissance, the Lebanese label shortlisted for the LVMH Prize 2021

Cynthia Merhej founded her Lebanese label in 2016 alongside her mother. Supplied
Cynthia Merhej founded her Lebanese label in 2016 alongside her mother. Supplied
Updated 11 April 2021

Introducing Renaissance Renaissance, the Lebanese label shortlisted for the LVMH Prize 2021

Cynthia Merhej founded her Lebanese label in 2016 alongside her mother. Supplied

DUBAI: “I’m doing femininity on my own terms,” says Cynthia Merhej, a LVMH Prize 2021 semi-finalist — the first-ever Arab woman to be selected as a semi-finalist for the prestigious accolade — when asked to describe her womenswear label Renaissance Renaissance.

Merhej, the 31-year-old Lebanese designer, who studied graphic design and illustration at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins art school, was always destined to be involved in the fashion industry. She hails from multiple generations of designers — her great-grandmother and mother both ran their own ateliers in Palestine and Lebanon.

The 31-year-old creative hails from a family of fashion designers. Supplied

Her focus and determination to push the envelope can be traced back to her family history. “She was an anomaly,” said Merhej of her great-grandmother. “To have this really strong woman who decided to start her own fashion business and run it herself was pretty unique at the time.”

Merhej grew up in a tiny suburb in Beirut. Her earliest childhood memories are of her mother’s bustling atelier, watching seamstresses at work and seeing her mother carefully drape clothing on clients all day.

Portrait of Cynthia Merhej. Supplied

“I didn’t have the typical story where I’m looking at fashion as an outsider and thinking ‘wow, it looks so glamorous, beautiful and fantastical.’ Fashion was something very real. I was exposed to the whole other side of it, which you usually don’t hear about or see in magazines or fashion shows and things like that,” she said.

At 17, the third generation tailor left Lebanon to pursue an education in London, before moving back aged 24 and launching her own sustainable label alongside her mother in 2016.

Merhej launched her own sustainable label alongside her mother in 2016. Supplied

But although her mother was already a successful fashion designer with over 30-years of experience back home, Merhej revealed that her own foray into the industry began with self-learning. “My mom was too busy. She wasn’t like ‘oh, I’m going to sit and teach her how to sew and teach her how to do this,’” said Merhej. “And I really appreciate that, because fashion is a really tough business.”

Merhej had to take pattern-making classes for a year and a half before she felt she was on “her mother’s level,” as she put it. The mother and daughter duo went on to develop pieces for the brand of clothing known for its bulbous silhouettes, corset-style detailing and flouncy, feminine ruffles.

Renaissance Renaissance is known for its bulbous silhouettes, corset-style detailing and flouncy, feminine ruffles. Supplied

“The brand aims to challenge perceptions of femininity, but in a beautiful way,” said the designer. “When people look at the clothes, they might think that they’re not very radical due to our perception of what radical is. But when you take my clothes and display them in shops in Beirut, they’re really the opposite of everything that is found there,” she added.

Merhej has a point. When one thinks of classic Lebanese designs, one cannot help but think of the glamorous red carpet gowns and gorgeous couture creations that come out of Beirut season after season.

Cynthia Merhej photographed by Lily Merhebian. Supplied

“It was actually really hard to get recognition in the Middle East,” said Merhej. “I had to really go outside the region to find people that would understand what I’m doing,” she added, noting her relocation to Paris following the tragic Beirut explosion on Aug. 4.

As a result of her hard work, Merhej’s designs are now being recognized. Last week, she made fashion history after being announced as one of 20 semi-finalists for the LVMH Prize 2021, making her the first-ever Arab woman to be shortlisted as a semi-finalist for the award.

Merhej is the first Arab woman to be shortlisted for the prestigious LVMH Prize. Supplied

“It’s already incredible we even got to the semi-finals,” said Merhej. “It will be even more incredible if we get to the finals, but I think even just to get to this point is pretty amazing.”

Her Lebanese label has also elicited a positive response for its strong commitment to sustainability.

Merhej’s most recent fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection, for example, features fewer looks, ethical production and a complete absence of buttons and zippers, which often end up in the trash even after a garment is recycled.

The fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection features fewer looks, ethical production and a complete absence of fastenings. Supplied

“I was raised to approach fashion ethically since before I even knew that sustainability was a term,” said Merhej. Her sustainable approach to fashion was further encouraged by her father, an engineer, whose lessons taught her the importance of producing something to the highest quality so that it lasts over time.

“I think the most sustainable thing you can do is design things with a lot of consideration. You have to make sure that what you’re designing actually has a purpose, that it’s beautiful, and it’s something people want to keep and desire — and that you’re using ethical conditions to produce it,” Merhej said.

“Everything around me is constantly being destroyed in this country,” she added. “I am trying to make something that’s going to be really beautiful and that stands the test of time for the women that inspire me.”


Egypt to unveil ‘portion’ of 3,000-year old city

Egypt to unveil ‘portion’ of 3,000-year old city
Updated 10 April 2021

Egypt to unveil ‘portion’ of 3,000-year old city

Egypt to unveil ‘portion’ of 3,000-year old city
  • Famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass had announced earlier this week the discovery of the “lost golden city”
  • Items of jewelry have been unearthed, along with colored pottery vessels, scarab beetle amulets and mud bricks

LUXOR: Archaeologists near Luxor have unearthed just a portion of the “largest” ancient city ever found in Egypt and dating to a golden pharaonic age 3,000 years ago, officials said Saturday.
Famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass had announced earlier this week the discovery of the “lost golden city,” saying the site was uncovered near Luxor, home of the legendary Valley of the Kings.
“We found one portion of the city only. But the city extends to the west and the north,” Hawass told AFP Saturday ahead of a press conference in the archaeologically rich area.
Betsy Bryan, professor of Egyptian art and archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, had said the find was the “second most important archaeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamun” nearly a century ago, according to the excavation team’s statement on Thursday.
Items of jewelry have been unearthed, along with colored pottery vessels, scarab beetle amulets and mud bricks bearing seals of Amenhotep III.
The team began excavations in September between the temples of Ramses III and Amenhotep III near Luxor, some 500 kilometers (300 miles) south of Cairo.
Amenhotep III inherited an empire that stretched from the Euphrates River in modern Iraq and Syria to Sudan and died around 1354 BC, ancient historians say.
He ruled for nearly four decades, a reign known for its opulence and the grandeur of its monuments, including the Colossi of Memnon — two massive stone statues near Luxor that represent him and his wife.
“It’s not only a city — we can see... economic activity, workshops and ovens,” Mostafa Waziri, head of the country’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said Saturday.
Since the announcement, some scholars have disputed that Hawass and his team have succeeded where others had failed by locating the city.
Egyptologist Tarek Farag posted Friday on Facebook that the area was first excavated more than a century ago by a team from New York’s Metropolitan Museum.
But Waziri dismissed these concerns, saying previous digs had taken place further afield to the south the site.


Girl on fire: Alicia Keys surprises school students in Saudi Arabia

US singer Alicia Keys is known for her Grammy-winning hits and on-stage presence. (File/ AFP)
US singer Alicia Keys is known for her Grammy-winning hits and on-stage presence. (File/ AFP)
Updated 6 min 1 sec ago

Girl on fire: Alicia Keys surprises school students in Saudi Arabia

US singer Alicia Keys is known for her Grammy-winning hits and on-stage presence. (File/ AFP)

DUBAI: US hitmaker Alicia Keys recently gave an impromptu performance to Saudi students and staff at Madrasat AdDeera in AlUla.

The performance, which was posted onto Instagram by Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah on Friday, saw the award-winning singer perform her hit “Fallin’’ in front of students and staff at a girls’ school.

The Grammy Award winner has visited Saudi Arabia numerous times. 

Keys was one of the headliners of Riyadh Season 2019, alongside Bruno Mars, Pitbull and John Legend who all performed concerts across the capital city.

And according to a recent photo that has been circulating around Twitter, the “Girl on Fire” singer was in the Kingdom even more recently than that.

The photo in question, posted by Twitter user @dcantiheroes, is a screenshot from April 9 taken from Hassan Ghoneim’s Instagram Stories that showed the Saudi media personality standing beside Keys.

If the picture was taken over the weekend, that means that Keys was in town when Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli performed at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, AlUla.


US-Lebanese model Nour Arida launches new children’s line

US-Lebanese model Nour Arida has just made her first foray into fashion design with the launch of her new kidswear line, Generation Peace. (File/ Getty Images)
US-Lebanese model Nour Arida has just made her first foray into fashion design with the launch of her new kidswear line, Generation Peace. (File/ Getty Images)
Updated 10 April 2021

US-Lebanese model Nour Arida launches new children’s line

US-Lebanese model Nour Arida has just made her first foray into fashion design with the launch of her new kidswear line, Generation Peace. (File/ Getty Images)

DUBAI: US-Lebanese model Nour Arida has just made her first foray into fashion design with the launch of her new kidswear line, Generation Peace.

The clothing line is made for girls and boys between the ages of six months to 12-years-old.

Arida, who is a mother of a five-year-old girl named Ayla, announced the exciting news this weekend via Instagram.

“I genuinely hope this brand will meet your expectations,” she told her nine  million Instagram followers. “We’ve been working for so long on every detail, every design and every idea for every single aspect to meet international standards,” she added.

For the new children’s brand, Arida tapped her friend and designer Rebecca Zaatar to help her launch the label.

“So many of you have told me that they like my relationship with my daughter Ayla, and my way of dealing with her – this is what inspired me to enter the ‘kids world’ in general,” Arida explained of what prompted her to launch a children’s wear brand.

The debut collection features graphic tops for boys and girls, frilly dresses, onesies for babies and toddlers, cozy sets and swimsuits.

There are also hair accessories for girls, such as printed headbands, silk bandanas and scrunchies made out of left-over fabric from the garments.

Meanwhile, each purchase comes inside a sustainable, eco-friendly package that doubles as a coloring book for little ones. 

Designs range from $7 to $148, and can be purchased online. 

Each piece from the new range boasts a message of equality, tolerance and peace that is addressed to kids and to their parents.  

Though this is Arida’s first official foray into the world of design, the Paris-based model and social media influencer has years of fashion experience under her belt. 

Before becoming a highly-successful fashion blogger, Arida worked as a buyer and brand manager for a number of prestigious fashion labels, including Rag & Bone, Zimmermann, Theory, Vince, J-Brand and Frame Denim, among others.

Additionally, she has lent her face to several campaigns for renowned international brands such as French fine jewelry company Boucheron, for whom she is a brand ambassador and spokesperson.